Distraction the Drone Killer
When we first started out as pilots in the mid 1980s we were shown a training film called “Distractions.” It followed the day of a very busy pilot who had a lot going on, both at home and at work. The increased workload made him miss the ejection seat arming pin and he was unable to eject from his damaged aircraft. The outcome was fatal. We took away the lesson that distractions can cause accidents and kill pilots. That basic fact has not gone away; if pilots are distracted they make errors and introduce omissions. The following advice has been taken from some of our training material and is well worth considering.
The Causes of Distractions
There are numerous causes for errors but there is usually some form of distraction involved at some point in any accident timeline. Let us examine some categories of distractions.
If we allow people to talk to us during flight as a routine occurrence, we are leaving ourselves wide open to being distracted. We may have mobile phones, radios and observers all bringing the possibility of audio distraction. Observers using non-verbal communication can be very distracting, if not briefed in advance. The client has a habit of trying to get involved during the most crucial phases, and their proximity can cause concern at times. Members of the public can arrive unannounced and cause disruption of normal procedures.
Some aircraft use tablets as screens and this may cause unwanted pop-ups at just the wrong moments. Batteries and software can give nuisance alarms that are inappropriately loud for their significance. The drone has been designed without good piloting principles in mind, you have to make up for that deficiency. Disable other apps and isolate the tablet from any networks if possible.
Distractions do not have to be occurring at the flying site. If you have a lot going on at home, and your mind is not focussed, you are unconsciously being distracted. It is also reducing your ability to manage extra workload, because your arousal state is already higher than that expected when you designed your operating procedures.
If you are uncomfortably hot or cold then you will have reduced spare capacity. Background noise during the planning or briefing stage will reduce the effectiveness of both. By not managing your environment you are more likely to introduce a distraction when operating.
These distractions can be reduced by removing the opportunity for a distraction to occur in the first place. We do that through the writing of strong procedures in our Operations Manual and effective training. Unless we know when these problems are likely to arise, we will never be able to manage them successfully.
Methods of Reducing Distractions
An example of a good process would be to always brief the client that when they see the pilot with a controller in their hands, they cannot interrupt or communicate with the team. That single measure would not stop distractions occurring during the pre-flight checklist though. More measures should be examined and introduced as your experience grows. At Flyby Technology we reduce the impact of distractions in the pre-flight phase, by insisting that any error or omission at an item on a checklist, means the reader must start again from the beginning. There are lots of error-trapping processes taught on our course, so that pilots do not allow a loss of concentration to impact upon the conduct of their flying.
If we know about phases of a flight that will be critical in terms of concentration, then we should brief our team about communication discipline. By briefing the danger, we allow our team to understand when we will be working to our limits. They may volunteer to take some of that workload from us and free valuable capacity. Train yourself and your team to think before they talk; to understand the impact of distracting someone who could be performing a safety critical action. Place a section about reducing distractions in your Operations Manual and include an analysis of the success of those measures in your daily debrief.
We mentioned earlier that lifestyle stresses might carry over into our flying. If we have a clean life, we have a clear mind. That of course is an unrealistic ideal, however, if we know things are tough outside of flying, we can brief our team to be extra vigilant for mistakes and omissions.
Just because we fly very small aircraft, it does not mean that the lessons from manned-aviation are largely irrelevant; quite the reverse is true. Distractions equal crashes or very public mistakes. Good training reduces distractions. Good training equals safe flying and successful businesses.
See for yourself how you get this quality of training.